Leicester City downed Aston Villa at Villa Park on Saturday afternoon by a score of 2-1. First half strikes from James Maddison and Harvey Barnes gave the Foxes a comfortable lead at the break. The hosts got one back at the start of the second period through Bertrand Traoré, but City’s defense held firm and saw out the win that took them to second on the table.
Manager Brendan Rodgers welcomed the return of two of his right backs by making space for both of them in the starting XI. Captain Kasper Schmeichel started in goal, marshalling a back four of Timothy Castagne, Jonny Evans, Çağlar Söyüncü, and Luke Thomas. Wilfred Ndidi and Youri Tielemans set up in deep midfield positions behind Ricardo Pereira, James Maddison, and Harvey Barnes in advanced roles. Jamie Vardy spearheaded the attack as the sole striker.
Leicester came out of the blocks with intent, fashioning an early chance through clever interplay by Tielemans and Ricardo on the right. The give and go and give back teed up Ricardo to fire in a shot from distance that was too close to Villa keeper Emiliano Martinez. The opening quarter hour was largely more of the same, with the Foxes patiently carving out chances and Villa unable to get out of their half.
Well, not entirely unable to get it out of their half, as Ollie Watkins was a willing runner and did well a couple of times to hold up the ball and carve out chances that were promptly snuffed out by the Foxes’ defense. This would be as good as it would get for the Villans in the first half.
City broke the deadlock in almost casual fashion on the 20’ mark. An attack down the left saw Barnes tap a square ball to Madders on the edge of the area. There was no pressure on the former Norwich City man, so he just lined up the shot and rolled it into the far corner. Martinez got a hand to it, but he was never keeping it out.
Martinez may have felt he should have done better with the goal, but he made up for just moments later. The Villa defense failed to close down Ricardo, who had camped in the Maddison position just outside the D. His curling shot was going to find the corner had not the keeper done brilliantly to make a flying stop and somehow holding the ball.
The whole “holding the ball” thing was notably absent just moments later as the Foxes doubled their lead. A Barnes pass found Vardy cutting in from the right. HIs rasping effort was on target but directly at Martinez, who spilled the ball in a dangerous area. Barnes was the first to react, and he smashed home from a tight angle.
Leicester may have just dropped down a gear in terms of intensity. Villa enjoyed a spell of possession, knocking the ball around without doing anything particularly interesting with it. Referee blew the whistle to call an end to the first half that saw exactly no shots on target from the hosts and the Foxes holding a deserved 2-0 lead.
Neither manager made any changes to start the second period but the complexion of the game changed immediately. Villa launched an attack down the Leicester left and Matt Targett was given space to ping in a cross. The defense collapsed on to Watkins, who failed to make any meaningful contact. That allowed the ball to run to Bertrand Traoré who was all alone in the 6 yard box. He smashed home from close range, giving the hosts a lifeline with their first shot on target.
It got worse for the Foxes just a few moments later, albeit in a very different fashion. A Leicester attack saw the ball fall to Madders on the edge of the area. He went for goal, but the defender got the ball at the same, sending the midfielder to the floor clutching his foot. He carried on long enough to take a free kick and a corner before again going to ground clutching his hip. He tried once again to keep going, but had to come off for good just after the hour mark with Nampalys Mendy coming on for him.
Can we not have all of our injuries at the same position this time around?
As one might expect, replacing Madders with Mendy resulted in a period of play where Leicester’s ball movement was a bit more retrograde. There was plenty of possession, but little in the way of attacking intent beyond a couple of long balls for Vardy to run on to. The hosts weren’t producing much of the way of chances either, so Rodgers was likely satisfied with the run of play.
So much so, in fact, that he hauled off Ricardo and brought on Amartey, going to a back three to see out the last ten minutes. The game slowed down due to a parade of fouls by both sides and some exaggerated rolling around on the ground every time there was contact. Not exactly photogenic stuff, but so long as the clock kept ticking, no one in blue was complaining.
Rodgers revived the “wall-o’-defensive-midfielders” formation, giving Tielemans a rare break and introducing Hamza Choudhury. Five minutes of extra time were added on, and they were excruciating as the Foxes couldn’t get out of their own half. Tyrone Mings had the best chance of extra time, heading a cross just wide from a difficult position. That would be the last attack of the match and the Foxes just held on for the full three points.
It looked like it was going to be easy, but we managed to make it a bit of a struggle. On the plus side, there was no collapse after conceding early in the second half and the Villans only managed two shots on target the entire match. It wasn’t pretty, but it was professional and we’re at the stage of the season where the “what” is far more important than the “how.”
Luke Thomas strength for a 19 y/o is very good rarely out-muscled. When faced with a 1V1 situation, he can deal with it efficiently, shield the ball and stand his ground when under pressure. Impressed with him in midweek & again today. For me IMO has higher ceiling then chilwell.— LCFC FOXXY (@LCFCfoxxy) February 21, 2021
Controversial yet brave! Eric Andre would be proud.
The win gives the Foxes 49 points from 25 matches which puts us 2nd on the table. We host Slavia Praha in Europa League on Thursday, and then it’s Arsenal at the King Power a week from today.